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The 1914 recruiting boom

The first week of September was the peak of the recruiting boom in 1914, in London no less than in the rest of the UK. Nearly 200,000 men joined the armed forces in that week, including over 21,000 in London.

Recruiting lining up outside the Whitehall Recruiting Office in London, August 1914 (c)IWM

Recruiting lining up outside the Whitehall Recruiting Office in Great Scotland Yard (see the same view today here) London, August 1914 (c)IWM

One of our abiding memories of 1914 is the recruiting boom or ‘rush to the colours’. Contrary to some popular impressions, this was not simply based on some notion that the war would be ‘over by Christmas’.  The peak came after the news arrived at home that the British Expeditionary Force had suffered great casualties at Mons and were now in retreat. People rushed to the colours at the moment of utmost danger, not because they all thought it was going to be a brief, glorious lark.

Weekly recruiting figures for London and for the rest of the UK

Weekly recruiting figures for London and for the rest of the UK (based on War Office records at National Archives)

Looking at each of the first nine weeks of the war from the declaration of war on Tuesday August 4th, it is clear that the peak came in the fortnight after news from Mons arrived. This news was not the only factor: the increase in unemployment in wartime, a general sense of duty, and for some a sense of adventure also played a part, among other individual factors affecting each man joining the army that summer. However, the timing suggests that the risk of defeat (and fear of invasion) played a large part.

That first week of September, 191,000 men joined up across the UK, almost as many as had joined up in the whole of August (195,000). In London, the 34,730 had joined up by 31 August and another 21,870 joined in the first week of August.

It is worth remembering that even the recruiting levels in August were vast compared with peacetime. In each of the last few years of peace, between 25,000 and 30,000 men had joined the army (including Territorials) each year, between 4,000 and 5,000 of them in the London recruiting district (which included areas that were then in the surrounding counties but are now in London, such as Stratford in East London/Essex). Every week from 11 August to 21 September saw a larger intake than each of the preceding years had done – the peak week of 1-7 September brought in more than six times the peacetime level of enlistments!

If we look at the daily figures we can see that it was the middle of that week that saw the absolute peak nationally, with over 27,000 enlisting on Wednesday 3rd and over 29,000 on both Thursday 4th and Friday 5th.

Daily recruiting figures

Daily recruiting figures

Interestingly, though, the peak days in London were slightly different. In fact the peak day here was Tuesday the 9th, when 4,833 men joined up in the London recruiting district (more men than had enlisted here in the whole year up to the end of September 1912). The only other days when over 4,000 joined up were Tuesday 1st and Wednesday 3rd. It is not clear why these dates were the peaks, but local fluctuations in towns and cities could be based on an intensive local recruiting effort (such as a large meeting or campaign by a local army unit) or the effects on local employment of the war, or indeed of the weather or seasons – such as the end of harvest in the countryside.

The recruiting boom of 1914 was a unique event in British history, with hundreds of thousands of men joining the armed forces (and particularly the army) in the space of a few days. It is a poignant moment in retrospect as we know about the battles that faced these men over the next four years. Those men who joined up in August and September 1914 fought, and many died, in some of the most famous and bloody battles in British history.

We can look at the statistics and timing and get some sense of why so many enlisted at that point, but each man’s story up to the point that he entered the recruiting office was unique, just as each man’s experiences after enlistment were different.

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Posted by on 7 September 2013 in Recruitment

 

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Harry Fusao O’Hara: Japanese Fighter Pilot, 1918

If British people think of Japanese fighter pilots, they probably think of the Second World War and the Zero long-range fighter aircraft, or even kamikaze. They certainly do not think of a young man in a Royal Air Force biplane. But Harry Fusao O’Hara was a Japanese fighter pilot, flying with the RAF in 1918.

Harry Fusao O’Hara was born in Tokyo in 1891. As a treaty partner of the UK, Japan joined the Allies early in the war; O’Hara, though, seems to have decided to fight for the British rather than his homeland. First, he served in the Indian Army in the 34th Sikh Pioneers, the pioneer unit of the 3rd (Lahore) Division, which served on the Western Front in 1914 and moved to Mesopotamia in August 1915. It is not clear whether O’Hara served at the front with the SIkhs. Instead of going to Mesopotamia, though, O’Hara joined the Middlesex Regiment in December 1915 and did then go out to France, arriving on Christmas Eve.

In August 1916, O’Hara was wounded in action. Although the records do not detail his actions, he was awarded the Military Medal in January 1917 and, when inspected by a Royal Flying Corps doctor, he was found to have shrapnel scars on his left arm, chest, left shoulder, right arm and right thigh. He had clearly – as the phrase goes – been through the wars.

Harry Fusao O'Hara's flying certificate photo, 1917

Harry Fusao O’Hara’s flying certificate photo, 1917

In March 1917, O’Hara transferred to the RFC as a 2nd-class air mechanic (the basic rank for RFC men – equivalent to his rank of private in the Middlesex Regiment).  He was soon undergoing flying training, though, and living in London at 25 Fitzroy Square, a boarding-house run by Jukicki Ikuine, another Japanese man living in London. In 1911 Ikuine and his English wife had run a boarding-house entirely populated by Japanese men (servants, cooks and waiters), so perhaps his properties were a standard place for Japanese men to board.

O’Hara qualified as a pilot on 21 July 1917 at the London and Provincial flying school in Edgeware, and was immediately promoted to Sergeant by the RFC.  It is not clear where he was stationed between then and March 1918, when he was posted from France to the No 1 School of Military Aeronautics (in Reading), but at some point he became engaged to Norfolk-born Muriel M McDonald. They married in Lewisham in September 1917.

No 1 Squadron with their SE5As and dog

In 1918, Sgt O’Hara went out to the front again to join No 1 Squadron RFC/RAF. Quite what his commanders and comrades made of this Japanese man with an Irish name we will never know.  Given his proven bravery and obvious technical capability shown by gaining his flying certificate, it seems likely that his race held O’Hara back from becoming an officer. Nonetheless, the RFC and RAF accepted sergeant-pilots and O’Hara was able – again – to fight for Britain in France and Flanders.

On 1 June 1918, O’Hara was again wounded and sent to hospital. This time he suffered a gun-shot wound in his jaw.  Two weeks later (after treatment in Boulogne) he was back in England and sent to Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup, which specialised in facial reconstructive surgery. He was granted a month’s furlough in both September 1918 and April 1919, effectively leaving the RAF during the latter before being discharged officially a year later. He was awarded a war pension of 19s 3d per week from November 1919.

Sadly, the hospital records on O’Hara are incomplete, only covering a return visit to Sidcup in 1923-24 to have a new set of dentures fitted – presumably to replace those made after his injury in 1918.  The photos of his face don’t show the severe wounding experienced by other Sidcup patients (like HR Lumley), so it looks like he was one of the lucky ones among facial wounding victims.

Harry and Muriel O’Hara lived on in London after the war, first of all at 39 Thornford Road, near Lewisham Park, and later at 32 Pemberton Gardens, Islington.  In the early 1920s, Harry worked teaching Japanese at SOAS, but otherwise little record of their life remains. The National Army Museum’s collection includes a cigarette box given by O’Hara to a former officer of the 34th Sikh Pioneers in 1932 “in memory of World War One”, so he obviously maintained some links with his wartime comrades.

When war came again, Harry O’Hara became an enemy alien after Britain declared war on Japan in December 1941; so too did Muriel under the laws of the day, whereby a woman automatically held her husband’s nationality.  She reclaimed her British nationality in 1944, but he apparently remained Japanese.  There is no record of his having been interned, so hopefully this decorated and repeatedly-wounded war hero of the Great War was allowed to live on in peace (from the authorities at least) in his house in Islington.  Harry Fusao O’Hara died in Hampstead in 1951.

A nation’s wartime armed forces really take all sorts.  The RFC and RAF included men from across the Britain’s Empire, dominions and other allied and friendly nations.  Harry Fusao O’Hara may well be unique, though, as a Japanese fighter pilot on the Western Front.

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Archive sources:

National Archives: AIR 79/1/1 RAF service record of Harry Fasao O’Hara

The Papers of Harold D. Gilles at the Archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of England: Ref. ADDMSS622, Box 26, Sgt H O’Hara: ID 1541

 
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Posted by on 23 April 2013 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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SA Gabriel, an unusual hospital death

When we read about the bravery of nurses in air raids, it can be easy to underestimate the danger they were in. These raids on hospitals could be enormously destructive, and of course the patients were often immobile in the face of that danger. The coolness and bravery of the nurses must have been a real benefit. One of those who could not be saved, though, was Stewart Arkcoll Gabriel.

From de Ruvigny's Roll of Honour

(From de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour)

Stewart Arkcoll Gabriel was born in June 1878, the son of merchant James Sutcliffe Gabriel (who owned and ran a wharf) and his wife Susan (nee Arkcoll), the middle son and one of six children. The Gabriels lived in a large house on Leigham Court Road in Streatham. By 1901, Stewart Gabriel, still living at home, was working for his father. In 1905, Stewart was granted the freedom of the City of London as the son of an existing freeman in the Company of Goldsmiths.

In 1906, Stewart Gabriel married Elsie Dorothy Thornton in Forest Gate. By 1914, though, Stewart they were living in Epsom, Surrey, with their daughter Judith Ashley Gabriel (born in July 1913). In March 1915, Stewart enlisted in the army, giving his profession as Dog Breeder.

Gabriel was not at home in the army, though. After reporting for duty in Woolwich on 16 March, he lasted only another week before being discharged as not likely to become an efficient soldier. He had been very specific about the terms of his enlistment – he was to serve at home only and insisted that he should be put to work in shipping, to suit his experience as a civilian. Instead, he was sent to No. 2 Remounts Depot in the Army Service Corps, even though – as he wrote on 23 March “I knew next to nothing about horses.”

His entry on de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour states that his defective eyesight meant that he could serve. In fact, the army doctors thought his eyesight (although poor) was good enough for service. He was rejected anyway in March 1915 and returned to civilian life.

He was eventually conscripted in November 1916 and sent into the Royal Garrison Artillery – not exactly the kind of job he had been after in 1915 and certainly not one that would keep him at home in England.

After going out to the front in April 1917, he was wounded but soon returned to his unit – 76th Siege Battery RGA. The Battery served around Ypres during the Third Battle there, now better known as Passchendaele.

A few weeks into the battle, Gabriel was gassed and sent off to a Casualty Clearing Station at Dozinghem, near Poperinge in Belgium. On the night of 21/22 August, the CCS was attacked in an air raid. As the Matron-in-chief recorded in her diary (on the excellent Scarlet Finders website):

47 Casualty Clearing Station bombed: Miss Roy, QAIMNS, Sister-in-Charge to say that her Station had been bombed last night, several bombs falling near the lines for walking cases and several of them were injured; one of the Sisters, Miss W. M. Hawkins, TFNS, was injured in the left thigh and would be evacuated to the Base by the next Ambulance train with 4 other Sisters suffering from shock. Altogether there were about 50 casualties, 12 of whom have died, including one RAMC orderly.

One of those 12 fatalities was Stewart Arkcol Gabriel. He was buried at the local military cemetery, one of over three thousand British and Empire casualties buried there. The Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website has a photo of his headstone at Dozinghem. Elsie Dorothy Gabriel lived another 30 years, until October 1948; their daughter Judith married in 1940 and lived until 1986.

Gabriel’s story is unusual both for the manner of his (brief) early period in the army and for the manner of his death. In the end though, he was just one of the many men who were conscripted in 1916-18 and left their families behind, and sadly one of those men who never returned.

 
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Posted by on 12 March 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

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Frank Leslie Berry, conscript casualty

Just one among the millions of men who were conscripted into the British Army in the latter years of the Great War was Frank Leslie Berry, a clerk who ended up making maps on the Western Front and being gassed in the final weeks of the war.

Frank Leslie Berry was born in February 1899. By the start of 1917, he was working as a junior clerk in the Ministry of Munitions in Whitehall and living at 49 Ledbury Road, North Kensington with his father Thomas. As a young, single man, he was called up into the army as soon as he turned 18 – joining up at the start of March 1917.

Berry1

Berry was recruited into the Royal Engineers and trained to be a field linesman in their signals section. A year later, he arrived in France (in March 1918) and was posted to the 5th Field Survey Company. These were the organisations – well described (as ever) on the Long, long trail website – that produced the maps that the army used in trench warfare.

Following the German Spring Offensive that was launched in the weeks after Berry arrived in France, the Allies gradually turned the tables and began to push back the German Armies on the Western Front.

On 17 October 1918, his unit were heavily shelled with gas shells. Berry described how he only gradually became a casualty: “Heavy bombardment of Gas Shells, did not feel effect for quite 12 hours, cannot give any reason unless [gas] mask was defective”

Berry2

When he began to feel these effects, he reported to 53 Casualty Clearing Station (which probably locates his unit to Roisel, Northern France). From there he was sent to No 1 Australian General Hospital, then based at the Racecourse in Rouen.

Sent back to the UK, he was sent to the Huddersfield War Hospital and the Denby Dale Auxiliary Hospital, also in Huddersfield. He was deemed to have recovered in January, but suffered a relapse in February. On 19 February he was demobilised and returned home.

 
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Posted by on 6 March 2013 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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Will You March Too?

As conscription loomed, the Government tried to convince men to volunteer or attest their willingness to serve in the army before they could be forced by the state to join up. Posters appeared across London and elsewhere in Britain asking ‘Will You March Too or Wait Till March 2?’

(c) Library of Congress

(c) Library of Congress

The Military Service Act 1916, passed into law on 27 January, made all eligible single men (those aged 19-40) liable for military service on 2 March 1916. It ended the Derby Scheme, set up in late 1915, which had allowed men to ‘attest their willingness to serve’ – essentially volunteering to be conscripted. At midnight on 1/2 March, the Derby Scheme ‘groups’ (arranged by year of birth) were closed and eligible men not in them were assigned to the equivalent ‘classes’ in which they could be called up as conscripts.

The more bellicose newspapers and propagandists made much of this deadline – insinuating that only those men who attested would be able to apply for exemption from military service (as we have seen, this was not the case). The Government and army recruiters were happy to play along. Posters like that above appeared around the country (including a Welsh version). The phrase ‘Will You March Too or Wait Till March 2’ was plastered up outside Town Halls. The posters appeared around the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square – as shown in this photo, replaced on 1 March with one reading ‘Last Day: March the First’.

The final pre-conscription recruiting campaign poster was widespread enough to be satirised by Punch magazine. On 1 March 1916, a cartoon showed two ladies looking at the ‘March Too’ poster:

Topical humour from Punch, 3 March 1916

Topical humour from Punch, 1 March 1916

 
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Posted by on 2 March 2013 in Recruitment

 

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A Naval wedding in Hackney

On Monday 14 May 1917, a group of naval ratings drew a motor car through the streets of Hackney. Inside was Petty-Officer Philip Henry Baker and his bride Ethel.

Philip and Ethel Baker's wedding in the Daily Mirror (15/5/1917)

Philip and Ethel Baker’s wedding in the Daily Mirror (15/5/1917)

Philip Baker was born in Bromley-by-bow in 1892, the son of Alice and ‘blind-house fitter’ Henry.  Ethel Kain was 5 years his junior, daughter of undertaker Thomas Kain.

As Petty-Officer Baker, Philip was serving as a stoker on HMS Broke, and was involved in the Battle of Dover Strait the month before his wedding. Along with another ship, the Broke attacked German torpedo boats that had shelled Calais and Dover. Both British ships rammed German vessels. The commanders and many of the men on the two British ships were awarded medals for their actions (although Baker was not among them).

On 14th May, Philip Baker was back on dry land to marry Ethel at St John-at-Hackney church.

Philip and Ethel's Banns of marriage

Philip and Ethel’s Banns of marriage

 
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Posted by on 28 February 2013 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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A Bermondsey family’s war effort: the Holtons

We tend to think of families in the Great War in terms of the service of the sons, brothers or fathers in the armed forces. They were not necessarily the only ones to play a part, though – many women went to work in munitions or other jobs as more men left civilian life. One example of this is the Holton family who lived in Bermondsey.

In 1911, leather finisher James W Holton and his wife Sarah Ann (nee Longhurst) lived at 33 Marcia Road, off the Old Kent Road, with seven of their children, who ranged in age from 11 to 24. They had married on Christmas day 1883 and had a total of 16 children before James died in 1913 (Sadly, seven of their children had died before 1911, another two lived elsewhere).

The Holtons listed at 33 Marcia Road in 1911

The Holtons listed at 33 Marcia Road in 1911

Reginald George Holton, a 14-year-old errand boy in 1911, was working as a warehouseman in 1915 when he went to East Dulwich to enlist in the Royal Field Artillery. He was a 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a tattoo on his right arm. Before going to the front, he got in trouble for going absent without leave for a week in November 1915.

Part of Reginald Holton's service papers

Part of Reginald Holton’s service papers

Despite his indiscretion, he joined 167 Brigade’s artillery in France as a drvier on 12 December 1915 and remained on the Western Front for the next three and a half years. In May 1916, Driver Holton joined the D battery of 162 Brigade’s artillery.

Meanwhile Sarah Holton and her youngest daughter Ethel went to work for John Bell, Hill and Lucas, Ltd, making gas masks in their factory on Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey. The company were pharmaceutical chemists in peace, so well placed to make gas masks to keep up with the advances in chemicals used in gas warfare in the Great War. They had opened their London Works on Tower Bridge Road in 1909.

According to the National Roll of The Great War, Sarah worked in the factory for three years (presumably from 1915 until the end of the war) and was joined there by 17-year-old Ethel from August 1917 until September 1918.

In the Holton family – like many others – at least three members took part in the war effort. Reginald drove for the artillery in France and Flanders, while his mother and sisters were making gas masks to counter the gas shells fired by his counterparts in the German artillery.

 
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Posted by on 16 February 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, Women

 

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